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Boardroom ScandalThe Criminalization of Company Fraud in Nineteenth-Century Britain$
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James Taylor

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199695799

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199695799.001.0001

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Criminalizing Fraud: The 1850s

Criminalizing Fraud: The 1850s

(p.95) 5 Criminalizing Fraud: The 1850s
Boardroom Scandal

James Taylor

Oxford University Press

Anti-fraud legislation in the 1840s was confidently predicted to protect investors. But this chapter shows that revelations in the 1850s demolished this faith. Government-imposed publicity and disclosure was not enough to combat those determined to deceive, while the suspicion grew that unlimited liability, long enforced as the default in the belief that it discouraged fraud, was actually making the problem worse. These new beliefs inspired a series of reforms between 1855 and 1858 which conceded general limited liability, and retreated from the project of prevention. But a simultaneous sequence of banking scandals put pressure on government to take punishment more seriously. Hitherto, only the most egregious types of ‘fictitious’ company, existing solely on paper, and promoted by confidence tricksters, had been successfully prosecuted. But the hammer blows dealt to the law by the banking failures prompted the government to take significant steps towards the criminalization of fraud.

Keywords:   fraud, limited liability, companies, law, criminalization, morality, directors, banks

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